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Once considered to be the doormats of Ice Cross Downhill, Americans have mastered the sport in short time and are challenging the Canadians for supremacy going into the season finale in Saint Paul.
SAINT PAUL, Minnesota (USA) – In just four short years, Americans have gone from the bottom of the pile to the top of the heap in Ice Cross Downhill and a racer wearing red, white and blue could even win the championship of the world’s fastest sport on skates this weekend. There are a record five Americans in the top 20 in this most competitive season in the sport’s 16-year history – a remarkable turnaround from just one in the top 20 just four years ago and zero in the top 150 five years ago.
Cameron Naasz is second overall and could become the first American world champion if he can finish on the podium in front of Canada’s Scott Croxall in the finale of the 2015/16 season on his home ice in Saint Paul on Saturday. Other Americans in the top 20 include: Maxwell Dunne in 10th place, Matt Johnson in 13th and Reed Whiting in 16th. Their rise to the top of the sport reflects the surge of popularity of the sport in the United States. After passing the Finns, Swedes, Czechs, Germans and Swiss who were once near the top, the Americans are now zeroing in on the Canadians, who have six in the top 20, as the most dominant nation.
“I think the Americans are doing so well in the sport now because we finally got exposed to it in 2012,” said Naasz, who has won three of the last four #redbullcrashedice races going back to the 2015 season finale in Edmonton. He is a full-time student and full-time racer. “Red Bull Crashed Ice wasn’t even a thing here five years ago and now we have a handful of athletes dedicating themselves to a sport that they’re so passionate about.”
The sport had made a detour around the United States for more than a decade before the first of five straight races were staged in 2012 in Saint Paul, which has since become the nation’s hot spot and one of the most eagerly awaited races each season because of the large and frenzied crowds. Ice Cross Downhill is in its essence a sport that holds a deep appeal to Americans with its combination of speed, power and getting physical.
“My favorite part about the sport is the insane atmosphere that races create in incredible areas such as Saint Paul,” said Naasz, who is on a mission to win the title after taking second overall last season and third overall in the two seasons before that.
Naasz, Dunne, Johnson and Whiting along with Dan Witty (24th), Michael Iulianello (29th), Tommy Mertz (31st) and Andrew Swanson (39th) are among the Americans who have helped take the whole sport of Ice Cross Downhill to the next level by training intensely throughout the off-season in the spring, summer and fall for the winter season– this year’s championship was the biggest ever with 10 races on the calendar from November to February.
“I think there was always a lot of good talent in the United States but now we’re realizing the proper ways to train and the guys have really committed themselves to it training year-round – and it shows,” said Whiting, who joined the race in 2013 when Americans were still considered lightweights in the rough-and-tumble sport. “In Minnesota, we have a huge hockey culture so that’s a great stepping stone for getting into this sport. I think we have a love for #extreme sports in the USA and guys see this as an opportunity to push themselves to the limits,” added Whiting, President of the US Ice Cross Federation.
Dunne, a former all-American college decathlete, has managed to take 10th place overall despite never making it to a semi-final or final of a #redbullcrashedice race. He has nevertheless been consistent and persistent with appearances in all three #redbullcrashedice and all six Riders Cup races so far this season. His best result was fourth in a Riders Cup race in Bathurst, Canada. That was a race won by Johnson, a speedster out of the gate who got another podium for third place at a Riders Cup at Rautalampi, Finland.
“Both of my podiums were on tracks that I could really use my explosive speed out of the gate,” said Johnson, who joined the sport two years ago in Saint Paul. “I really seem to pull away from the #competition after the third step.”
Johnson who trained up to 15 hours a week in the off-season and is glad the hard work is paying off now.
“We trained hard in the off season together and on our own,” he said. “We knew we had the skills to be great. We just needed a little practice. This sport appeals to Americans because it’s fast, fun, furious and a little crazy.”
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